Wau — At least 12 people were killed when people took to the streets of the Western Bahr el Ghazal state capital, Wau, on Wednesday - according to eyewitnesses.
They also claim the army has positioned tanks in the area and have set up roadblocks limiting movement in and around Wau town, in an attempt to contain the security situation.
Protests took place in Wau on 17 December in reaction to the alleged killing of more than 26 innocent civilians in Parajallah, 48 miles outside Wau town. Authorities have made a number of arrests including of traditonal leaders.
Parajallah is inhabited by the Balanda ethnic group, a community whose youth groups and intellectuals have expressed dissatisfaction with state cabinet's decision instructing ex-commissioner, John Peter Miskin, to relocate the headquarters of Wau county in October. Miskin rejected the administrative order and resigned from his position.
Miskin's rejection and resignation generated subsequent protests, which saw youth groups create roadblocks on on the way out of Wau town. When the army attempted to remove the roadblocks on 8 December some protestors allegedly lost their lives.
More people were killed when further demonstrations against the incident were held in Wau town on 9 December. The state government has admitted that eight lives were lost in the protest.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) initially put the death toll at ten, before revisingit to nine. Miskin claims 25 people were killed and 21 others sustained injuries.
Authorities are yet to release a statement about Wednesday's incident.
An anonymous police officer at the scene told Sudan Tribune that they "found some people burned in their houses. We got six children, all of them very young. I think they are below seven years in Daraja. We found four dead in the house in Hai Muzabiin. They were lying dead. No signs of bullets, not even signs of burns. I think they may have been suffocated. We found two in Hai Bapara."
Eyewitnesses accuse the police of opening fire on civilians in an attempt to contain the situation.
"Police killed four people in my presence in Daraja. Some of them were also involved in looting. This is why it took them time to control. I am sure the situation would have been quickly contained had police not engaged in looting," an eyewitness told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.
State security advisor, Rizik Dominic Samuel, said the state government is "actively supportive" of the South Sudan army's (SPLA) move to provide protection to lives and properties of the state's citizens. He said the government entirely approves of and commends all military activities aimed at controlling the situation.
With regards to the SPLA intervention Samuel said, "it's going to be strong. It's going to be a definitive and timely intervention. The army is authorised and I am happy they are out in control."
Samuel said some people have lost their lives and property but that it was too early to give figures.
"You are interested in wanting to know how many people have been killed and the properties damaged. This is not our priority now. Yes some lives may have been lost but our priority now is how contain situation," he said.
Speaking on the matter for the first time since his arrival in the state, head of the parliamentary investigation committee from the national legislative assembly in Juba, David Okwaro, said he was "shocked" by the security situation and urged the army to take charge.
Okwaro said the protests "must end" in order for his committee to proceed with its fact-finding investigation, which began on Tuesday after a meeting with the state governor to discuss a "comprehensive" solution, to contain the situation.
"We need to accept the reality that we're not doing enough to protect our citizens," said Okwaro.